Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Che Guevara & The Motorcycle Diaries - Lessons

Reading "The Motorcycle Diaries" by the most popular uncontested global icon of our times, the legendary “Che Guevara” is an experience in itself. The book, a best seller has more to it than Che’s experience and its role in how Che contributed to the revolution in Cuba and got him a "legend" status.
There are many lessons in life and innovation that come out of the epic journey by Alberto and Che. This article is dedicated to five such lessons I discovered after going through “The Motorcycle Diaries”. To be frank, these lessons are not new, but what is new is the lens. I hope it translates into an interesting read giving new thoughts to ponder over.
1. Change: The spirit of exploration
Che and Alberto’s adventure shows the spirit of exploration, a change that they wanted to see in their lives, despite being in a comfortable profession of health and medicine. In a competitive environment today, we want to maximize our potential in the traditional race courses set decades ago. This makes us go through the same process of applying for the best colleges, getting the best jobs and getting a respectable place in the society. Alberto and Che did exactly that, but after finishing the traditional journey, they set themselves on a journey that made them explore a different side of life, a reality that gave them respect and recognition. Stupid is what a conventional person might call it, but then exploring the unexplored path through on an unpredictable motorcycle needs an entrance exam of courage that few dare to pass. It is this exam that fosters change and brings in the spirit of innovation. When you are treading on a new path, all what you do is “innovate”
2. Nothing is impossible, but something surely is
We all set out with a spirit of “Nothing is impossible”, but we forget that even the best of planners and executers sometimes fail. It’s simply because something is impossible. The reason for this something to exist is due to the fact that we live in a society and the success of our actions depends on the way others react to it. This reaction is not under our control. Like a game, the unpredictability of environment, peers and partners makes the “Nothing is impossible” paradigm a fallacy. It is important to dream but without losing touch of reality. Dreams and reality quite often are poles apart and our minds constantly battle between these two extremes. The journey of Alberto and Che Guevara documented in “The Motorcycle Diaries” is an unblemished example of this conundrum.
3. When things don’t go as planned, it is important to keep the journey alive
Our dreams and aspirations that are closer to “achievable” are the planned things we do in our life. As we compete in an imperfect demand-supply environment, there are many for whom things don’t go as planned. Alberto and Che’s Norton 500cc also popularly known as “La Poderosa” (The mighty one) that did not prove its might in the rough terrain and broke down shows how unexpected a planned activity can go. The free spirit of Che Guevara might have hampered the planning and contingencies, but it is important to note his careful attention to detail and depth of any activity he took as seen in the book negates the claim. Alberto and Che’s actions after the series of break downs is an important lesson that brings about the spirit of adventure. Alberto in an interview in 2004 said, “The trip would not have been as useful and beneficial as it was, as a personal experience, if the motorcycle had held out. This gave us a chance to become familiar with the people. We worked, took on jobs to make money and continue traveling. We hauled merchandise, carried sacks, worked as sailors, cops and doctors.
4. Rules don’t always matter. It is important to go beyond them
The concrete towers of convention have their foundations firmly laid in the stone of rules. Setting up our own highland of “new” sometimes can cause those towers to come in the way. Our objective is simple: To reach a new highland. Alberto & Che’s objective of the journey did encounter such obstacles where they had to break the rules. Che notes in his account of the expedition “The most important effort that needs to be done is to get rid of the uncomfortable 'Yankee-friend'. It is especially at this moment an immense task, because of the great amount of dollars they have invested here and the convenience of using economical pressure whenever they believe their interests are being threatened”. Our highlands may go against traditions and may come in the way of the existing “Concrete Towers”. In the contemporary world, the rise of Google beside the concrete behemoth of Microsoft is a similar example. The stories of Apple, Steve Jobs, Facebook, Egyptian revolution etc. are similar examples of breaking the concrete tower. I am not contesting about the righteousness of their means, but I am simply hoping to highlight the means that were against the rules and conventions.
5. Risk is only for the courageous, and they are the ones that bask in glory
Che Guevara’s journey led to his political and social awakening. It has very much to do with this face-to-face contact with poverty, exploitation, illness, and suffering. He went on to become one of the greatest guerrilla leaders in history. Your path may be different and your awakening of a different sort but the important thing to note is the “awakening”. The moment of expedition may be pre-planned or may happen as a matter of course of our journey in the concrete tower. Such expeditions require risk and if our awakening brings about change, the glory is ours.

The Motorcycle Diaries – A brief
The Motorcycle Diaries is a memoir that traces the early travels of Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, then a 23-year-old medical student, and his friend Alberto Granado, a 29-year-old biochemist. Leaving Buenos Aires, Argentina, in January 1952 on the back of a sputtering single cylinder 1939 Norton 500cc dubbed La Poderosa ("The Mighty One"), they desired to explore the South America they only knew from books (1).
1. Dodes, Rachel. On the Trail of the Young Che Guevara. The New York Times. [Online] The New York Times, 19 December 2004. [Cited: 31 May 2011.]